Even if you are already a healthy eater, you are probably relying on a few favourite nutritious foods such as lean protein, steamed vegetables and whole grains for the bulk of your meals. Eating the same foods over and over again can make them feel as if they are bland and tasteless.
Thankfully you don’t need to turn to high-calorie marinades and sauces just to make your food taste exciting again, instead, why not try adding the following spices to your meals;
Cinnamon contains a compound known as Cinnamaldehyde, which is thought to be responsible for its medicinal properties (1). Cinnamon also offers potent antioxidant activity, fighting inflammation and lowering blood cholesterol levels (2, 3).
Cinnamon is able to lower blood sugar levels through several mechanisms, one of which is slowing down carbohydrate breakdown in the digestive tract and improving insulin sensitivity (4, 5, 6).
This is the spice that gives curry its popular yellow colour. It contains several compounds which have medicinal properties; the most important one is one you may have already heard of, curcumin (7). This antioxidant can fight oxidative damage and boost antioxidant enzymes within the body (8, 9). It is also highly anti-inflammatory and its effectiveness has been compared to some anti-inflammatory drugs (10).
Research also suggests that turmeric is able to improve brain function, fight Alzheimer’s disease and relieve arthritis through its anti-inflammatory properties and may even reduce the risk of heart disease (11, 12, 13, 14).
Cayenne pepper is commonly used to add spice to dishes. Its active ingredient is capsaicin, which has been shown in numerous studies to reduce appetite and even increase fat-burning (15, 16, 17). This is why capsaicin is a common ingredient that you may be able to spot in weight loss supplements.
One study found that adding just one gram of cayenne pepper into the meals of those who did not regularly eat peppers both reduced appetite and increased fat burning. However, it was suggested that a tolerance level can build up in those who are accustomed to eating spicy foods, which leads to a muted effect (18).
Studies have consistently shown, that amounts as low as one gram of ginger can successfully treat nausea. This includes nausea which is caused by pregnancy, chemotherapy and even seasickness (19, 20, 21).
Ginger is also a strong anti-inflammatory and can help reduce and even resolve pain (22).
In history garlic was mainly used for its medicinal properties (23). We now understand that many of the health benefits of garlic are down to the Allicin compound and this compound is also responsible for the distinct smell of garlic. Adding garlic into your food can help to combat sicknesses such as the common cold, so if you’re often getting sick then you could be doing yourself a favour by adding more garlic into your diet (24).
There is also growing evidence behind garlic having beneficial effects on heart health – adding garlic into your diet has been shown to reduce total cholesterol levels by up to fifteen percent (25) and another study demonstrated that garlic can lower blood pressure being as effective as over-the-counter medication (26).
Eating healthily doesn’t have to be about eating bland and flavourless foods, adding spices into healthy low fat, low sugar foods will keep the overall calorie count low and you’ll also reap the remarkable health benefits each of these spices have. For more information about using spices to give your favourite foods a low calorie kick, see our nutrition and weight management course.
1. El-Baroty, G.S., El-Baky, H.A., Farag, R.S. and Saleh, M.A., 2010. Characterization of antioxidant and antimicrobial compounds of cinnamon and ginger essential oils. African Journal of Biochemistry Research, 4(6), pp.167-174.
2. Shan, B., Cai, Y.Z., Sun, M. and Corke, H., 2005. Antioxidant capacity of 26 spice extracts and characterization of their phenolic constituents. Journal of agricultural and food chemistry, 53(20), pp.7749-7759.
3. Khan, A., Safdar, M., Khan, M.M.A., Khattak, K.N. and Anderson, R.A., 2003. Cinnamon improves glucose and lipids of people with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes care, 26(12), pp.3215-3218.
4. Adisakwattana, S., Lerdsuwankij, O., Poputtachai, U., Minipun, A. and Suparpprom, C., 2011. Inhibitory activity of cinnamon bark species and their combination effect with acarbose against intestinal α-glucosidase and pancreatic α-amylase. Plant Foods for Human Nutrition, 66(2), pp.143-148.
5. Shihabudeen, H.M.S., Priscilla, D.H. and Thirumurugan, K., 2011. Cinnamon extract inhibits α-glucosidase activity and dampens postprandial glucose excursion in diabetic rats. Nutrition & metabolism, 8(1), p.46.
6. Qin, B., Panickar, K.S. and Anderson, R.A., 2010. Cinnamon: potential role in the prevention of insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes. Journal of diabetes science and technology, 4(3), pp.685-693.
7. Nagpal, M. and Sood, S., 2013. Role of curcumin in systemic and oral health: An overview. Journal of natural science, biology, and medicine, 4(1), p.3.
8. Menon, V.P. and Sudheer, A.R., 2007. Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin. In The molecular targets and therapeutic uses of curcumin in health and disease (pp. 105-125). Springer, Boston, MA.
9. Agarwal, R., Goel, S.K. and Behari, J.R., 2010. Detoxification and antioxidant effects of curcumin in rats experimentally exposed to mercury. Journal of Applied Toxicology, 30(5), pp.457-468.
10. Biswas, S.K., McClure, D., Jimenez, L.A., Megson, I.L. and Rahman, I., 2005. Curcumin induces glutathione biosynthesis and inhibits NF-κB activation and interleukin-8 release in alveolar epithelial cells: mechanism of free radical scavenging activity. Antioxidants & redox signaling, 7(1-2), pp.32-41.
11. Xu, Y., Ku, B., Tie, L., Yao, H., Jiang, W., Ma, X. and Li, X., 2006. Curcumin reverses the effects of chronic stress on behavior, the HPA axis, BDNF expression and phosphorylation of CREB. Brain research, 1122(1), pp.56-64.
12. Chandran, B. and Goel, A., 2012. A randomized, pilot study to assess the efficacy and safety of curcumin in patients with active rheumatoid arthritis. Phytotherapy research, 26(11), pp.1719-1725.
13. Mishra, S. and Palanivelu, K., 2008. The effect of curcumin (turmeric) on Alzheimer’s disease: An overview. Annals of Indian Academy of Neurology, 11(1), p.13.
14. Wongcharoen, W. and Phrommintikul, A., 2009. The protective role of curcumin in cardiovascular diseases. International journal of cardiology, 133(2), pp.145-151.
15. Yoneshiro, T., Aita, S., Kawai, Y., Iwanaga, T. and Saito, M., 2012. Nonpungent capsaicin analogs (capsinoids) increase energy expenditure through the activation of brown adipose tissue in humans–. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 95(4), pp.845-850.
16. Leung, F.W., 2014. Capsaicin as an anti-obesity drug. In Capsaicin as a Therapeutic Molecule (pp. 171-179). Springer Basel.
17. Yoshioka, M., Imanaga, M., Ueyama, H., Yamane, M., Kubo, Y., Boivin, A., St-Amand, J., Tanaka, H. and Kiyonaga, A., 2004. Maximum tolerable dose of red pepper decreases fat intake independently of spicy sensation in the mouth. British journal of nutrition, 91(6), pp.991-995.
18. Ludy, M.J. and Mattes, R.D., 2011. The effects of hedonically acceptable red pepper doses on thermogenesis and appetite. Physiology & behavior, 102(3-4), pp.251-258.
19. Borrelli, F., Capasso, R., Aviello, G., Pittler, M.H. and Izzo, A.A., 2005. Effectiveness and safety of ginger in the treatment of pregnancy-induced nausea and vomiting. Obstetrics & gynecology, 105(4), pp.849-856.
20. Ernst, E. and Pittler, M.H., 2000. Efficacy of ginger for nausea and vomiting: a systematic review of randomized clinical trials. British journal of anaesthesia, 84(3), pp.367-371.
21. Pillai, A.K., Sharma, K.K., Gupta, Y.K. and Bakhshi, S., 2011. Anti‐emetic effect of ginger powder versus placebo as an add‐on therapy in children and young adults receiving high emetogenic chemotherapy. Pediatric blood & cancer, 56(2), pp.234-238.
22. Black, C.D., Herring, M.P., Hurley, D.J. and O’Connor, P.J., 2010. Ginger (Zingiber officinale) reduces muscle pain caused by eccentric exercise. The Journal of Pain, 11(9), pp.894-903.
23. Rivlin, R.S., 2001. Historical perspective on the use of garlic. The Journal of nutrition, 131(3), pp.951S-954S.
24. Josling, P., 2001. Preventing the common cold with a garlic supplement: a double-blind, placebo-controlled survey. Advances in therapy, 18(4), pp.189-193.
25. Silagy, C. and Neil, A., 1994. Garlic as a lipid lowering agent–a meta-analysis.
26. Ashraf, R., Khan, R.A., Ashraf, I. and Qureshi, A.A., 2013. Effects of Allium sativum (garlic) on systolic and diastolic blood pressure in patients with essential hypertension. Pakistan journal of pharmaceutical sciences, 26(5).